The disabling borders of nation
: An exploration of the causes, impact and possible alternatives to current intersectional inequalities associated with disability and forced migration in the UK

  • Rebecca Yeo

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Studies of disability and of forced migration have both generated their own significant fields of academic enquiry. In addition, a small body of literature brought academic attention to the intersectional inequalities associated with disability and forced migration, however, the causes and appropriate solutions to these struggles remain underexplored both in terms of theoretical understanding and practical response. This thesis is one of the first efforts to address this gap, bringing the sectors into conversation with each other, to learn from the perspectives of each and to develop more effective alternatives to contemporary inequalities. Assuming that no social order is inevitable, the study investigates how hegemonic representations of the needs and entitlements associated with disability and forced migration in the UK are determined, reinforced, and contested.
An innovative methodological approach combines elements of action research, with a poststructuralist theoretical framework. Drawing on elements of the Essex school of discourse theory, analysis explored the discursive logics used in key policy documents determining current entitlements associated with disability and forced migration in the UK. The study then investigated how these logics are reinforced or contested by people with diverse subject positions in the asylum sector or disabled peoples movement. Broad consensus was found as to the need to address the injustices experienced by disabled asylum seekers. Nonetheless, respondents with diverse roles and responsibility framed systemic change as unachievable, with the horizon of achievable change limited to the ostensibly pragmatic goal of identifying individuals worthy of some mitigation of policy restrictions. People with lived experience of the impact of current inequalities provided the central insights and motivation for this study. However, when survival depends on fitting hegemonic perceptions of worth, people cannot be responsible for leading the resistance or the development of alternatives. The action research element of the methodology therefore included the organisation of public events, bringing together the disabled people’s movement, the asylum sector, academics, local authority employees and others, to learn from disabled asylum seekers, build solidarity and collaboratively consider possible solutions.
Recommendations include the need for:
• a ‘social model’ of asylum, building on the social model of disability. This would facilitate understanding of the disabling impact of the asylum system on those subject to restrictions on the ability to meet human needs.
• collaborative learning from the lived experiences of disabled asylum seekers to build solidarity and to challenge intersectional inequalities.
• publicly engaged academic research to contribute to the paradigmatic shift required.
The study concludes that the experiences of disabled asylum seekers could provide the impetus to develop a broad-based movement of mutual solidarity through which to contest intersectional injustice and contest the distinctions of human worth which have become hegemonic in contemporary neoliberal society.

Date of Award26 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAurelien Mondon (Supervisor) & Naomi Milner (Supervisor)


  • Disability
  • asylum
  • Forced migration
  • refugees
  • intersectionality
  • contingency

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